Mark Read has warned that chief marketing officers have become "too much" like chief communications officers because they have been focusing on communications and forgetting the importance of the wider marketing strategy.
The WPP chief executive was speaking to a roomful of marketers at the London launch of the Institute for Real Growth, a WPP-backed organisation that is developing ideas to drive business growth and cope with disruption.
"A lot of CMOs have become too much chief communications officers, not chief marketing officers," Read said. "Our job is to help to put the ‘market’ back into the word ‘marketing’."
Communications has an important role, but it needs to be "the right element" within the wider marketing mix, according to Read: "Marketing means: what markets are we in? What products do we offer? What prices do we do? How do we understand and anticipate consumers?"
It is "not just how do we communicate" brand messages, he explained.
Read made the comments on a panel with Margaret Jobling, group chief marketing officer at Centrica, and Aline Santos, executive vice-president of global marketing at Unilever.
He said that whenever he talks to a client, "growth is the number one issue on their minds" and that was the chief reason for setting up the Institute for Real Growth, because many businesses need to transform in the face of disruption.
"What we’re trying to do is help CMOs regain their power inside the [client] organisation by redefining what it is they can do and what it is they can contribute," Read explained.
"CMOs do have a really important role and our job is to be their partner in making that transformation."
Read has tried to broaden WPP’s offering beyond communications because of declining sales and he said last year that the company would focus on four pillars – communications, commerce, technology and experience – to reflect clients’ broader needs.
The Institute for Real Growth has highlighted seven areas of potential growth for clients: identifying new "abundant markets"; developing multiple business models; creating value through better experiences; building an open culture; creating an "anticipative organisation"; "winning with whole-brain solutions" that combine left- and right-brain thinking; and "humanising growth" by not forgetting a human or personal connection.
Karen Blackett, UK country manager at WPP, also took part in the Institute for Real Growth event at the company’s headquarters at Sea Containers and warned that there is a lot of talk about building "the agency of the future" while still relying on "the processes of the past". Working practices "have to change as well", she said.